Monday, June 11, 2012
by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.
I attended an inner city high school hot with rumors of pervert P.E. teachers and weirdo janitors that left the savvy among us well warned to keep our distance. One of my friends was primed with pot and champagne by a teacher determined to get into her pants. My child's former babysitter was seduced by her band teacher. His abusive behavior and the subsequent criminal trial changed her from a popular talented teen into a socially isolated pariah.
Elite prep-schools possess perverts who groom their victims with promises of wealth and social status. Horace Mann, a prestigious school in New York (ranked by Forbes Magazine as the second best prep-school in the nation) faces a significant blow to its reputation due to a recent New York Times story by playwright Amos Kamil. Kamil, an ambivalent alumni of Horace Mann, wrote a chilling account of decades of sexual abuse of students by faculty.
Kamil writes of Mark Wright, assistant football coach and art teacher, who held unnecessary "physical examinations" that included fellatio and masturbation. After a student complained, Wright left the school. No announcement was given to parents. Typically institutions that support pedophiles follow the no talk rule. Just keep silent and all will seem as if the sordid affair never happened.
Stan Kops, a weirdo history teacher that liked to "frolic" with his students, was terminated after a student complained that he came up behind him at a camping trip. The next day Kops asked "what were you doing last night" while grabbing his own privates. When the student reported the incident Kops left, then went on to teach at another prep-school. Horace Mann apparently did nothing to warn the next school of Kops inappropriate behavior. Eventually Kops committed suicide.
Johannes Somary, head of the arts and music department, allegedly molested a boy named Ben over several years. Somary took Ben to Europe where they ate expensive meals, stayed in the best hotels, met famous musicians, and shared a bedroom. Ben reported the abuse, as did Ben's mother who confronted Somary. "Ben kissed me first," he claimed. When she demanded, "How dare you put your tongue down my son's mouth!" she said he replied, "That's how we Swiss kiss." A lawyer warned the family that unless they had evidence on tape there was nothing they could do to prove their allegations. After 15 years Ben committed suicide.
Institutional memory of decades of abuse has a way of fading into a vacuum of denial similar to that of the alcoholic. Several rationalizations prevent full disclosure and full repair for the victims. "It's just an isolated incident. It won't happen again. It wasn't that bad. Maybe it didn't even happen. Telling anyone about it will damage my reputation. It's all in the past. Good people will be hurt by talking about it. No use in embarrassing everyone. Revealing this will cost me money." The list of rationalizations could fill volumes.
In the Horace Mann School Family Handbook they mention respect, tolerance for different cultures and the importance of instilling pride in the school. There might be a lot more pride in the school if the children graduate without suffering abuse.
When survivors of abuse fail to receive full restitution and repair from respected institutions like the Catholic Church, and elite schools like Horace Mann or Penn State, it amplifies the original emotional injury. For victims the world organizes itself into an agonizing instrument of humiliation and exploitation with no justice or voice for their pain.
That's why we need to keep talking about sexual abuse, keep rubbing it in people's faces until they have to see it, deal with it, care about it. For victims like Ben, suicide provides an escape from unbearable pain and loneliness. When we listen to abuse victims, believe them, love them and accept them, we can minimize the damage, prevent others from becoming victims and save lives.
Photos courtesy of Graham Morrison/Bloomberg and deadspin.com.Tweet